Research Topic

The role of microbial communities in tropical ecosystems

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Microorganisms represent most of the Earth’s biodiversity and play an essential role in ecosystem processes, providing functions that ultimately sustain all of life. Understanding the link between ecosystem functioning and the distribution of microbial diversity is essential to predict ecosystem responses to ...

Microorganisms represent most of the Earth’s biodiversity and play an essential role in ecosystem processes, providing functions that ultimately sustain all of life. Understanding the link between ecosystem functioning and the distribution of microbial diversity is essential to predict ecosystem responses to a changing environment. With the rapid development of molecular-based techniques, a new interest in understanding the distribution patterns and functional traits of microbial communities has emerged. However, most of this research has been focused in temperate regions, and the principal mechanisms controlling microbial community variation within the tropics are poorly known. Tropical ecosystems are diverse and complex and are different in important ways from those of temperate regions. Tropical ecosystems are a major reservoir of plant and animal biodiversity and play important roles in global climate regulation and biogeochemical cycling. They are also under great threat, as the growing need for food, shelter, fiber and energy fuels the conversion of tropical ecosystems to other uses. Thus, in the context of global change, it is crucial to understand how environmental factors, biogeographical patterns and land use changes interact to influence the structure and function of microbial communities in tropical ecosystems.

Most studies of microbial communities and processes have been explored in temperate regions, while tropical environments have seldom been investigated. It is possible that different rules apply to microbial life in these ecosystems. For instance, elevated nitrogen deposition by anthropogenic activities may exacerbate phosphorus deficiency in tropical regions, in ways uncommon in temperate ecosystems. However, it is poorly understood how phosphorus availability affects soil microbes, or how microbial processes interact with nitrogen deposition in tropical ecosystems. Moreover, the distribution of microbes not only is related to environmental factors, but also can vary in relation to temporal and spatial scale. These factors influence biodiversity patterns of larger organisms, but their role in microbial diversity remains unclear, especially in tropical systems. In addition, little is known about microbial community responses to disturbance. Land use is one of the main drivers of biodiversity alteration in plant and animal communities, especially in tropical areas, where natural ecosystems such as forests are being rapidly altered by conversion to agriculture and other uses. Understanding the effects of land use change on soil microorganisms is a major conservation frontier.

This Research Topic focuses on studies (including original research, perspectives, and minireviews) that investigate: 1) the role of microbial communities in tropical ecosystem processes and 2) the environmental and anthropological factors controlling the composition and functional diversity of microbial communities in tropical systems. Special attention will be given to studies that apply the latest molecular techniques to describe compositional and functional traits of microorganisms, and that integrate ecological and biogeochemical concepts to provide an integrative perspective on the response of microbes to global changes. The present topic is proposed to be hosted in both Frontiers in Terrestrial Microbiology and Frontiers in Aquatic Microbiology to ensure a wide range of contributions.


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